Gunners Garage

Oakland Raider

1917 Oakland to cross the Yellowstone Trail in Wisconsin

We’ve been cranking to get my 1917 Oakland touring ready for a trip across Wisconsin. It’s part of a plan to celebrate the car’s 100th birthday. Dave Sarna, a Lions International member and former auto technology instructor at Fox Valley Technical College ( came up with the idea of driving the car over the Wisconsin portion of The Yellowstone Trail to raise money for a Lions Camp in Rosholt, Wis., that serves disabled kids ().

There’s more to it. This Oakland is kept in a building that became an Oakland dealership in 1917. The building was a Yellowstone Garage. A 1913 Oakland was first to blaze The Yellowstone Trail. In addition to the Oakland reaching 100, the Lions International is also 100 this year. So, the plan is to take charity pledges for every mile the car goes over the trail without major problems.

I considered taking the car to a restoration shop, but we had no budget. Then, Tim Buttles came along. He builds cars and airplanes and rarely works on other peoples’ cars, but he took a liking to the Oakland and broke that rule.

The 1917 Oakland Model 34 or “Sensible Six” is impressive looking, but as a recent article in the Pontiac Oakland Club International’s ( Smoke Signals magazine notes, this model had weaknesses, especially in the valve train, water pump and rear axle departments. Buttles discovered that the Oakland’s rocker shafts rotated in metal “saddles” bolted to the cylinder head and one of the saddles was cracked, causing the valves to hang up.

Tim Buttles (left) and Joe Thorn (right) were two of the talented restorers who helped with the project.


On the suggestion of Angelo Van Bogart, we called Joe Thorn at Metal Crafters in Stevens Point, Wis. (). Thorn’s machine shop specializes in Model A and Model T Ford engines, rebabbiting and nearly anything else one can think of. Thorn drove 45 miles to see the car and took the cracked saddle back to his shop where it was brazed and line bored. Two weeks later, Buttles had the car running.

There seemed to still be a knock in the engine, but it turned out the firing order was off. Sarna moved the plug wires and the Oakland started running pretty well. A test drive revealed a number of problems from a leaky carburetor to a leaky water pump to loose rivets in the rear and a transmission that wouldn’t shift into third.

Bob Hansen (near camera) and Dave Sarna repair the Oakland windshield.


Sarna started working on cosmetics, too. He washed and polished the car and its fabric top, touched up flaws in the paint and replaced a broken lower windshield glass panel. Bob Hansen took care of additional detailing.

Once the water pump is rebuilt and Metal Crafters repairs the rear axle, the car will be ready for the tour, which starts on the Yellowstone Trail on Oct. 9 in Hudson, Wis. From there we will travel east to Waupaca, where the Yellowstone Trail turns south. If all goes well, we will arrive in Kenosha the afternoon of Oct. 14. Some details are still being finalized, but the tentative schedule follows:


Day 1: Monday, Oct. 9. Hudson at 9 a.m.; lunch in Menomonie; dinner in Eau Claire.

Day 2: Tuesday, Oct. 10. Lunch in Cadott; dinner in Abbotsford.

Day 3: Wednesday, Oct. 11. Lunch in Marshfield; dinner in Stevens Point.

Day 4: Thursday, Oct. 12. Lunch in Waupaca; dinner in Oshkosh.

Day 5: Friday, Oct. 13. Lunch in Fond du Lac; dinner in Hartford.

Day 6: Saturday, Oct. 14. Lunch in Hales Corners; dinner in Kenosha.

In most cities, lunch/dinner stops will be arranged by local Lions Clubs. In Waupaca the lunch will be at Hansen’s at 112 Granite Street. In Hartford, the plan is to stop at the Wisconsin Automobile Museum. The Kenosha stop is tentatively planned at Gateway Classic Cars. Readers are encouraged to meet the car and its driver at the above stops.

The 1917 Oakland “Sensible Six” as it looked at the start of the project. Note the “airplane propeller” cooling fan.

The cloth top obviously needed some work, too, and lots of cleaning.

Here’s the engine at a later phase. The vacuum tank is at the shop.

Dave Sarna blasts off on the first test drive in Waupaca, Wis.

Dave’s cousin Cindy details the paint with a brush.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. .